Things to Do in Lisbon, Portugal – A Travel Guide
Filled with charm, and literally stacked with ambiance, Lisbon’s hilly streets offer many days (and many crazy nights) of sweet sweet exploration.
Thre are so many things to do in Lison. Portugal’s capital city wasted no time sucking us in. Within a couple of hours of arriving we found ourselves walking up and down the cobblestone hills of Lisbon’s Alfama district, ensnared by the allure of its old world charm.
Past courtyard cafes, down crooked stone streets, beyond the flitting sounds of mournful Fado music Lisbon constantly encouraged us to explore around the next corner.
While it might sound like we’re writing a hyperbolic love song, we promise we aren’t exaggerating. Lisbon charmed our pants off. And if you like historic cities that have done a remarkable job of preserving their past you’ll feel exactly as we did. Doubly so if you enjoy wandering down vibrant streets, enjoying good weather nearly all year round, and friendly-as-all-heck locals.
Lisbon offers all of the above, in droves.
Lisbon’s historic center lays spread out upon seven hills overlooking the Tagus River. This central part of the city is composed of many small neighborhoods, all of which are bit different from one another yet are equally fascinating. This is where you will doubtlessly be spending a majority of your time as a tourist.
When first arriving in Lisbon it is a good idea to look over a couple of maps of the center and try to get a basic feel for what can be a slightly confusing city to navigate. It took us a few days to get oriented properly but once we did we loved exploring all the little nooks and crannies that make Lisbon the great city that it is.
We have prepared a pretty basic list of Lisbon’s attractions that we think should be visited and explored by travelers of all ages and budget restrictions. Beneath that section we have included some tips on how to save money when visiting Lisbon, some of the best and cheapest places to stay, and tips for visiting Lisbon as a vegan. We hope you find our Lisbon travel guide useful during your time in this gem of a city.
As always we urge you guys to shop local, get off the beaten path when possible, and explore beyond the boundaries of your maps. Happy travels!
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Things to Do in Lisbon
Walk the Hilly Streets of Alfama
One of Lisbon’s greatest joys is the warren of hilly cobblestone streets that make up the Alfama district. There are very few metropolitan neighborhoods we can think of that are able to convey as much ambiance, history, and Old World charm as Lisbon’s Alfama district. High praise, but it’s true.
We spent many hours walking up and down the often narrow and hilly streets of Alfama during our month in Lisbon. Occasionally the hills and uneven ground kicked our ass, but ever single second was worth it. There is truly a unique time warp within the confines of this neighborhood, and it doesn’t take much to lose yourself in it.
We highly recommend putting away your map and letting your feet lead you where they may. You might be surprised by where the cobblestones of Alfama take you.
Things to Do in Lisbon – Plan Your Conquest at the Castelo de Sao Jorge
Lisbon Castle, or Castelo de Sao Jorge, stands proudly upon its loft hilltop overlooking central Lisbon and the River Tagus. This Moorish beauty of a castle is over 400 years old, but the actual fortifications upon the hill have been around for over a thousand years.
From upon the battlements of the castle walls you can look out over the city like the rulers of yore once did, and plot your global domination. Or, if you aren’t a huge dork, you can just take in the sweet views and then go for coffee. Like normal people do.
Entrance onto the caste grounds costs €8.00 for Adults, and €5.00 for kids. The castle is open every day from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM in high season, and 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM in low season. You can reach the castel by walking from the Rossio station on the Green Metro Line or by navigating your way on foot from Alfama.
Things to Do in Lisbon – Hop on a Historic Tram
Lisbon’s network of quaint, old-fashioned trams screech up and down the narrow stone streets of the city center, infusing it with a rustic (and rusty) industrial age charm. If you are visiting the city for the first time you are doubtlessly going to find yourself wanting to ride, and copiously photograph, these trams.
There are five different tram routes heading east from Alfama towards western Belem. The most relevant tram to tourists will be the No 28 line, which winds and lurches its way up and down central Lisbon’s most touristy hills. If you want to get a quick look at central Lisbon this tram line is a fantastic way of doing so.
You might also want to consider hopping on the E18 line to head towards Belem for a half day trip out to that district (more on Belem below).
Tickets cost €2.90 and can be purchased from the tram driver, or from coin operated ticket machines found along the routes. The first tram of the day is around 6:00 AM and most lines run until 11:00 PM.
A word of caution about Lisbon’s historic trams. You will see signs warning you about pick pockets, and it’s definitely a good idea to pay heed to them. Lisbon is generally a safe city but some of the most common schemes to separate tourists from their valuables certainly do exist, particularly in the center. Mind your belongings when standing in crowds, or bumping against strangers, and keep your eyes on your purse or camera bag while riding the trams.
Things to Do in Lisbon – Find Lisbon’s Vistas and Attain Spectacular Views
Miradouro da Graça
Located at the top of one of Alfama’s hills this vista spot offers sweeping views of central Lisbon and the Castelo de Sao Jorge. A small café allows you to sip on an espresso while enjoying the view, and for people watching tourists and locals come and go from the small square.
This spot grants you awesome views of Lisbon and should absolutely be on your list of things to do and places to visit in Portugal’s capital.
Miradouro de Santa Catarina
Both a great overlook AND a popular local hangout, the small park here is a wonderful place to have an afternoon beer while exploring the neighborhood on a nice day. There is a small outdoor bar here, and the park offers plenty of sitting space to enjoy the many a live performance by local artists along with the view.
Elevador de Santa Justa
This lift is found in the middle of the Lisbon’s Old City, and connects the lower streets of the Baixa neighborhood with the higher Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square).
While the elevator itself is pretty incredible looking it is also one of the biggest tourist traps in the city. Unless you enjoy burning your money for fun do NOT pay the €5.00 cost of riding to the top. Do ADMIRE the lift, and then proceed to use the streets to navigate your way up to Largo do Carmo for some sweet views.
Note: You can also access the lift using a 24 hour Lisbon public transport ticket, which costs 6.50 Euro. If you plan on using the metro more than a couple of times in a day this is a pretty good value. We preferred to pay per ride, as there were days when we did not use public transport while getting around Lisbon at all.
Miradouro das Portas do Sol
This spot might have been our favorite lookout point in the entire city. Situated halfway up a hill in Alfama Portas do Sol offers a fantastic view of lower Alfama, and the waterfront beyond it. A lovely sight, particularly on sunny days.
Things to Do in Lisbon – Explore Nightlife in Bairro Alto
If you enjoy exploring night time revelry in cities you will spend a fair amount of time in Bairro Alto while visiting Lisbon. This neighborhood has a ton of bars, restaurants, and cafes. Be warned, however – things can get downright raucous during a big night in Bairro.
Most evenings in this relatively small neighborhood start of slow as the nearly empty streets of the district gradually fill up with tourists and locals seeking food, booze, and music. On a warm weekend night things progress until the narrow cobblestone streets are absolutely rammed with people doing what drunk people do.
Everyone Says You HAVE to Try a Pastel de Nata
Eating a pastel de nata is one of the more cliched things you can do in Lisbon, and as a tourist you should totally give these sweet and sticky pastries a try. Or so everyone says. But sometimes everyone is just plain wrong.
We didn’t love these traditional pastries, but hey, we’re weird. You’ll probably think they are yummy.
Things to Do in Lisbon – Immerse Yourself in the Sounds of Fado
Originating in the Alfama district of Lisbon Fado music has been a part of Portuguese culture for over 200 hundred years. Fado is an often melancholy traditional folk music that includes instruments like guitars and mandolins with one Fadista singing achingly beautiful and often sorrowful lyrics. If you’ve heard Fado music do yourself a favor and head to Youtube and have a listen.
Fado dates back to at least the 1820s and was invented in Lisbon’s Alfama district. As you walk through the streets of this neighborhood at night you can hear it playing from many a bar and restaurant.
Fado is such an important part of Portuguese musical and cultural history that there’s even a museum devoted solely to it. We highly recommend taking an hour or two at Museu do Fado to delve into Portugal’s past and learn about Fado.
Admission to the Fado Museum is a modest €5.00, making it a no-brainer if you want to know more about Fado before experiencing it yourself later in the evening. Be sure to get the audio guide at the entrance so you can hear the stories told from room to room and get a sampling of different Fado singers throughout history.
Check out this article if you are looking for some quality spots to experience live Fado music in Lisbon.
Things to Do in Lisbon – Visit Belem
The Belem district lays a few train stops to the west of central Lisbon, and is easily reachable by public transportation. Belem makes for an enjoyable half day trip out of Lisbon’s center, and offers visitors even more historic monuments (Lisbon sure has a lot of those!), cool museums and galleries, and pleasant riverside parks.
The main attraction in Belem is Torre Belem, which you can see in the photo above. This impressive UNESCO World Heritage monument was constructed in the 16th century, and once served as both a defensive fortification and as a ceremonial gateway into and out of Lisbon. It’s a pretty cool spot to visit if you are into castles and forts and stuff, and if you are traveling with kids in Lisbon we certainly recommend taking them for a visit as well.
Things to Do in Lisbon – Check Out Padrão dos Descobrimentos
If you like huge monuments don’t miss out on Padrão dos Descobrimentos. This towering tribute to Portuguese explorers stands almost 200 feet tall, and is quite the sight to behold.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos is located in the Belem district, and you can visit it at the same time you go to Belem Tower.
Things to Do in Lisbon – Search for Treasures at Fiera da Ladra Flea Market
This massive flea market, located near Igreja de São Vicente de Fora and the Lisboa Santa Apolónia train station is held every Tuesday and Saturday. There is a wide variety of items on offer at the Fiera da Ladra Flea Market including clothing, antiques, kitchen items, housewares, electronics, records, CDs, DVDs, and much more.
The market can be a little overwhelming due to its size and the number of people milling about, but if finding treasures among piles and piles of junk is your thing than this massive flea market is a no-brainer. Bargain hunters should definitely add the market to their list of things to do in Lisbon.
Day Trips From Lisbon
Visit Stunning Sintra
Sintra is a picturesque town located just a 45 minute train ride from the heart of Lisbon. At one point in time this gorgeous town at the foothills of the Sintra mountains was a royal sanctuary for the nobility in Lisbon. Apparently the rich and powerful like to have really nice things. To this day Sintra is filled with finely manicured gardens, pretty parks, extravagant villas, and rainbow colored castles.
The biggest tourist draw in town is the colorful Pena Palace, a castle so eclectic in its design and color palette that it begs the question: “What kind of drugs were Lisbon’s nobility on, and how do we get some?”
Anyway, go check out Sintra if you are visiting Lisbon. Bring the kids, they’ll love it.
Getting to Sintra from Lisbon:
Trains from Lisbon to Sintra run frequently throughout the day from Lisbon’s Rossio Train Station. A ticket won’t cost you much, and organizing your own trip is fairly simple. For schedules and prices click here.
Day Trips from Lisbon – Cabo de Roca
Marking the most westerly point in Europe’s landmass the cliffs of Cabo de Roca tower over the constantly attacking Atlantic Ocean, locked in a battle of ancient titans that has been raging since before man walked the earth.
The clash of ocean against cliff, engaged in an eternal struggle, would later represent the end of the world to our ancestors, who would stand upon the edge of the cliffs thinking the known world stretched no further. Upon visiting Cabo it’s quite easy to see why one would think the cliffs marked the edge of existence, as the ocean stretches out as far as the eye can see.
The wind-racked cliffs offer a spectacular view, evoking poetry from even the most pragmatic of minds. If you have some time while in Lisbon, we certainly recommend visiting Cabo de Roca. Combine it with a day trip to the town of Cascais, or to Sintra, while you are in the area.
Getting to Cabos de Roca from Lisbon:
Take bus number 403 from the main bus and train station in Sintra. The trip takes from 40 – 60 minutes and costs under €5.00.
Budget Saving Tips for Lisbon
Here are some tips for how to spend less money when you visit Lisbon.
Lisbon City Card
The Lisbon City Card can really save you money if you plan to cram a lot into one, two, or three days in Lisbon. The card includes free or reduced access to 23 museums and can double as an unlimited ticket for public transportation. You can buy a one, two, or three day card. We had the three day card and loved it.
Eat Daily Lunch Menus
Dining out in central Lisbon can quickly drain your budget if you are traveling on a shoe string. If you eat at the wrong places you can expect to pay upwards of €10.00 for a modest lunch, and €15.00 or more for dinner.
Luckily there are many local eateries scattered around the heart of the city, and it doesn’t take much effort to track them down. Most local restaurants offer a daily set menu for €6.00 or so. Often the food in these places is better than what you will get at the most central tourist trap restaurants. Win/win.
If you make lunch your largest meal of the day, and make good use of lunch menus you can really keep your food budget down while in Lisbon.
Stay in a Hostel
Lisbon is blessed to be home to many awesome hostels and you, as a visitor, are blessed as well. We wrote an entire article about some of the best hostels in Lisbon, you should go check it out if you want to save money while meeting other travelers while staying in town.
Here are two of our favorite hostels in Lisbon:
- Oasis Backpackers Mansion Hostel: Named one of the top 10 hostels in the world by The Guardian, you can’t go wrong with this hostel. It’s located in a completely renovated and restored Portuguese Mansion that dates back 100 years. Despite its high ranking and beautiful setting it manages to remain one of the cheapest hostels in Lisbon. Click here for more info, reviews, or pricing details.
- Lisbon Lounge Hostel: Lisbon’s very fist hostel! It was opened in 2005 by four Portuguese artists, and voted the Best Small Hostel in the World in 2010 and 2011 by Hostelworld. The hostel drips with style and sophistication, yet remains an excellent deal for budget travelers. Click here for more info, reviews, or pricing details.
Make Use of Airbnb
If hostels aren’t your thing, or if you are traveling in a group of two or more, Airbnb can be an alternate budget slashing option for your trip to Lisbon. Renting an apartment near the center can often be far cheaper than booking stays in a hotel, especially if you are splitting the cost with someone. Having access to a kitchen can reduce the cost of your visit even more. During our time in Lisbon we stayed in this Airbnb apartment. It was well equipped and comfortable, despite being a little cold because we were there in the winter. The owners are also super nice and helpful.
Choose Which Landmarks You Visit Wisely
You can’t see everything on one visit anywhere you go, and in Lisbon you probably SHOULDN’T if you are concerned about sticking to a budget. Prices of admission to many museums, parks, galleries, and other places of interest is surprisingly high, upwards of €10.00 for simply entering a site. Definitely not friendly for those traveling on a minimal budget, but hey, what can you do?
Avoid Cocktails When Going Out
Most of the bars in Barrio Alto tout their cocktails (THE BEST COCKTAILS IN LISBON RIGHT HERE!!!) but few of them mix anything really worth paying for. Watered down drinks for €5.00 to €10.00 a pop are a BIG no thanks. Save your wallet, and your liver, and drink wine/beer instead.
Visiting Lisbon as a Vegan
The vegan scene in Lisbon is flourishing. With nearly twenty vegan restaurants, over twenty vegetarian restaurants, and almost fifty vegan-friendly restaurants and shops anyone following a plant-based diet will be overwhelmed with great dining options to choose from.
Additionally, fruits and vegetables in Lisbon are fabulously flavorful, and there are a few shops like Celeiro with fantastic vegan groceries like tempeh, tofu, and seitan. In addition to food options Nae shoes, the incredible vegan shoe brand, is based in Lisbon and has a store where you can go crazy and buy as many pairs as your heart desires (or your wallet allows).
Here is a brief guide to our favorite vegan restaurants in Lisbon.
- Jardim das Cerejas – This buffet style vegan restaurant offers not only super tasty and affordable lunches and dinners. We ate there several times while in Lisbon and couldn’t get enough. Tip: Don’t fill up on the buffet because their desserts are fantastic.
- Ao 26 – Vegan Food Project – Probably the best restaurant I went to in Lisbon, AO 26 is top notch. Anything you get should be a treat but I hear the burger is to die for (unfortunately I only went once and made the mistake of not ordering it). Tip: make a reservation through their Facebook page. It’s super busy and difficult to get a table on a whim.
- Princesa do Castelo – I honestly didn’t expect too much because the pictures of there food on HappyCow were a bit lackluster. However, the food here turned out to be quite nice, and the staff are super friendly. It’s a good spot for lunch.
- Veganeats Caffe – Speaking of HappyCow, I went to this cafe purely because the cake featured on their profile looked so damn good. It did not disappoint. It’s a really nice small cafe with a very sweet and friendly owner. Highly recommended for dessert or a light lunch.
- Focaccia in Giro – Not a vegan restaurant but a nice little cafe style spot with a selection of Focaccia that’s located near the flea market. There are two vegan focaccia sandwich options on the menu and both are nice for a light lunch.
- Primo Basilico – Again, not a vegan restaurant but a pizzeria offering vegan pizza by the slice with vegan cheese! Great cheap lunch or dinner spot.
And there you have it, guys. Our guide to visiting Lisbon on a budget. We loved Portugal’s capital, and it’s on our ever growing list of places we need to go back to. We hope we’ve inspired you to visit this stunning city. As always, travel well, and we’ll see you on the road!
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